HISTORY OF FILM IN PORT ANTONIO

by Dominic A Ghisays

 

Since the arrival of Hollywood legend Errol Flynn in the Port Antonio, Jamaica on his yacht ‘Zacca’ in 1940s to shelter from the storm, he memorably claimed that Portland was ‘more beautiful than any woman he had ever met’. As a sailor and skipper, this writer can attest that sailing into Port Antonio West Harbour is an experience never to be forgotten and would happily concur with Errol Flynn’s description about its sheer beauty; with its cathedral-like Blue Mountains as a back drop, colourful quaint ginger bread houses perched on its lush hillsides and its pristine turquoise waters. 

JIMMY CLIFF, ROBIN WILLIAMS & PETER O’TOOLE

Mr Flynn and his actor wife Patrice Wymore Flynn ended up residing here and raising their daughter Arnella after buying their large coconut farm and cattle ranch at Castle, in East Portland. The Flynn legacy continues within the parish with the new world class marina called the Errol Flynn Marina and that his actor/ model and film maker grandson Luke Flynn having recently inherited the family estate and now has Jamaica as his base. Errol Flynn and his celebrity friends made the Rio Grande Bamboo Rafting, the island’s most iconic attraction and put Port Antonio on the map for the Hollywood set,  just as his fellow celebrities Noel Coward and Ian Fleming did for the neighbouring Parish of St Mary. The Flynn legacy in Portland, has become a beacon and a lure for Hollywood since the 1950s and 60s and which continues to attract the world’s film capitals in their search of unspoilt and authentic locations with friendly locals.

If one were to design the perfect paradise for a film location, one would be hard pressed to better the parish of Portland, Jamaica. It is one of the world’s most stunning regions for a natural tropical splendour, vibrant natural colours and a sheer ‘feast for one’s eyes’. Added to this are the amiable, beautiful and talented people of the parish and include the mystical Maroons, Jamaica’s original freedom fighters, that live up within their own ‘reservations’ up high in the Blue Mountain range. With the second highest rainfall in the world, cascading rivers, stunning waterfalls, the world’s steepest inclination from its shores to the peaks of the majestic Blue Mountains, it is no wonder that Portland has become the ‘go to place’ for photographers, film makers and writers from around the world for almost a hundred years. It is of course of no surprise that Hollywood and the other filming capitals of the world, continue to return to Jamaica’s true star of film…Portland, or ‘Portie’ as the locals term both the Capital Port Antonio and the Parish.

Over the years Portland has played host to many of the world’s most celebrated actors, writers, producers and directors, who after having worked in or visited Portland, chose to either live or holiday here at the selected luxurious resorts of Trident, Frenchman’s Cove, Jamaica Palace, Goblin Hill, GeeJam and now Great Huts or at the high end villas in San San and beyond. Writer Robin Moore famous for his book (and film) The French Connection, chose to live at the Blue Hole (aka Blue Lagoon). From the 1950s and 1960s Port Antonio has become an elegant vacation spot for stars such as Ginger Rogers, Bette Davis, Brooke Shields, Raquel Welch, Tom Cruise, Eddie Murphy, Denzel Washington, Linda Evans, Sharon Stone, Grace Jones, Beyonce, Johnny Depp, Kate Moss and the list goes on and on.

As noted in Jamaican author Peter Polack’s definitive book ‘Jamaica- Land of Film’ (Cambridge Scholars Publishing), the list of films shot in Portland since the 1960s include; The Lord Of The Flies (both versions 1963 & 1990), Dark of the Sun (1968) with Rod Taylor & Yvette Mimieux, Club Paradise (1986) with Robin Williams & Peter O’Toole, Cocktail (1988) with Tom Cruise & Elizabeth Shue, Clara’s Heart (1988) with Whoppi Goldberg, The Mighty Quinn (1989) with Denzell Washington, Treasure Island (1989) with Charlton Heston, Shattered Image (1998) with William Baldwin & Anne Parillaud, Instinct (1999) with Sir Anthony Hopkins & Cuba Gooding Jr., Knight and Day (2010) with Tom Cruise & Cameron Diaz. Of course, there have been many other television, music videos and commercials along with locally produced Jamaican films included in a staggering list of over 700 productions since the 1950s.

Many of these overseas productions over the years, have provided Jamaican crews, actors and extras the opportunity to hone their skills and crafts, creating one of the world’s most experienced crews and professionals outside California.

JAMAICAN ACTOR CARL BRADSHAW WHO IS EVER PRESENT IN ALMOST EVER FILM SHOT IN JAMAICA

It is also great for the local economy, where for example, Club Paradise shot in 1986 supposedly generated over USD$56 million over the few months of filming and leaves a soft footprint impact on the environment. In regards to the actors, many local professional actors have benefited from their high profiles of some of these block busters. For example local actors like the ever present Carl Bradshaw, Jimmy Cliff, Oliver Samuels,  Bobby Ghisays and Jamaica’ s folk hero Louise ‘Miss Lou’ Bennett all had prominent roles in Club Paradise, working alongside Robin Williams, Rick Moranis, Twiggy and Peter O’Toole. Mighty Quinn with Denzell Washington, Robert Townsend, James Fox and Mimi Rodgers also provided good acting opportunities for local Jamaicans actors Oliver Samuels, Carl Bradshaw, Glenn Campbell, Volair Johnson, Cathy Levy, Charles Hyatt, Dion Silvera and Bobby Ghisays to name a few and a chance for Bob Marley’s clan; wife Rita Marley and their daughters Cedella and Sharon Marley and another reggae icon Bob Andy to ‘strut their stuff’ in song and dance. 

 

Portland’s place names abound with the mystical, fairy tale and cinematic resonance; names such as the Non Such Caves, Goblin Hill, Fairy Hill, Sherwood Forest, Gremlin Hill, Dragon Bay, the Trident Castle, Jamaica Palace, Alligator Head, Zion Hill, Dragon Point, Norse Point and the Blue Lagoon amongst others, which all conjure up the images of their names and do not disappoint in the reality. It is still surprising that despite this parish being the birth place of Jamaica’s tourism in the early 1900s, Portland still has a relatively low key tourism impact and no ‘all inclusive’ hotels, as yet (and long may that continue). This is probably due to the distance from the two major airports, fewer cruise ship stops, the relatively challenging roads and possibly by intent and design from the many the high and mighty residents of the exclusive San San area…who seem to be relatively happy with Portland’s under development and leaving things as they are. Whatever the history and the reasons, Portland’s under development as far as tourism and industry, has ironically been its saving grace and made it the gem it is today, especially as a film location and as a low key destination for tourism.

SHERYL LEE RALPH WITH THE MARLEY SISTERS CEDELLA AND SHARON

Port Antonio, the capital of the Parish, boasts spectacular twin habours and this port has regularly been voted the most beautiful in the Caribbean….some say the world (although how does one measure beauty?).  All of Jamaica’s seaside towns, villages and ports seemed to have been designed and built with their backs to the seas and despite this and the usual chaos of traffic and the Jamaican cacophonies of noise, the town of Port Antonio stands out as the most well laid out town and a favourite for many in Jamaica and overseas. Without the degree of hustlings and harassments felt in the more high profile tourist resorts of Ocho Rios, Montego Bay and Negril, ‘Portie’ feels more the way it ought to be and a throwback to a bygone and more gentle tourism era. Whether one is having a coffee at the Yousch cafe at the Craft Market on the outskirts looking out across the East Harbour or having a drink at the Errol Flynn Marina looking across the stunning West Harbour or negotiating one’s way through the bustling farmers market or walking up the picturesque Titchfield Hill to the ruins to look out across the harbour at Navy Island, the town of Port Antonio and its colourful people are a cinematic gem. Incidentally, the old Titchfield hotel is where Errol Flynn apparently won the 65 acre Navy Island which sits across the harbour, in a card game and which many to this day still call Flynn Island.

THE FORMER DRAGON BAY HOTEL IN ZION HILL, PORTLAND – THE MAIN LOCATION FOR COCKTAIL

Of the many popular film locations shot in Portland, the Folly Great House ruins at Folly Point is still a favourite, despite and because of its dilapidation that was due to the American owner Alfred Mitchell in the early 1900s rushing to build this 60 room mansion for his bride Annie Tiffany (Heiress of the Tiffany fortune) and foolishly using seawater to mix the cement with disastrous results. The climax of the film Mighty Quinn (1989) with Denzell Washington, Robert Townsend and Emmett Walsh and Jamaica’s Sheryl Lee Ralph, where the helicopter crashes into Folly was another memorable cinematic moment. Many films, television shows, music videos and commercials still use this stunning location. Reach Falls towards Manchioneal in the East of Portland, was made famous by that waterfall love scene in Cocktail (1988) with Elizabeth Shue and Tom Cruise and is now a popular tourist attraction.  Frenchman’s Cove, considered one of best beaches in Jamaica, has also been used in many films as a premier location, including the Mighty Quinn and the most of the filming of Lord Of The Flies (1990) which incorporated and filmed Hurricane Gilbert as it happened and its aftermath as part of its storyline. Dragon Bay beach is where Tom Cruise had his famous bamboo beach bar in the film Cocktail, which was called for many years after as the ‘Cruise Bar’. Long Bay towards the East, was again highlighted in both Cocktail with Cruise and Elizabeth Shue riding horses along the beach, as well the ending of the Mighty Quinn where Denzell Washington and his screen son are on the beach reminisce about the new legend and friend Maubee. The majestic and fairy tale Trident Castle, sitting at the entrance of Oyster Bay is truly a site to behold and one of the great landmarks of Portland and Jamaica. A favourite backdrop location for many photographers and music video it has also been used in some of the films mentioned above, since its completion in the mid 1980s. Winnifred’s Beach, the community beach in Fairy Hill, who many rate at the best local beach in Jamaica, was used as the main set for Club Paradise (1986) and the funny beach scene where Rick Moranis heads out to sea in his wind surfer and where the Arab Sheik villian, played by local Bobby Ghisays, anchor’s his super yacht awaiting to deviously buy the resort. No locations list would be complete without including the ‘bottomless’ Blue Hole, now known as the Blue Lagoon. Despite it being used in the publicity by some local resorts in the area as the Blue Lagoon of the film of the same name starring the young Brooke Shields, this is not the same location. However, it has been used in many a film and again Cocktail leads the way, in the stunning scene where Cruise and Shue are having a drink, with a bamboo raftsman in the background, talking about all the crazy inventions that have made people money. With its 360 degree panoramic views of Port Antonio’s twin harbours, the coastline to the East and West and the breathtaking Blue Mountain range. It is believed that Dark of the Sun (1968) used this location for a couple of the scenes. Other notable locations that need mentioning are Somerset Falls and the Rio Grande river, which are again pure tropical splendour. With Somerset Falls offering a real deep jungle location and rain forest feeling and the Rio Grande river with its billows of bamboo along its banks with the towering mountains in the back ground. There are of course, so many more locations that could be mentioned, some which were featured in the films and other yet to be discovered. Portland’s offerings are many and varied and has a myriad of possibilities of locations and stories that will continue to attract film makers, artists, photographers and writers for many years to come.